Cover crops can be an excellent way to extend pastures and reduce the amount of hay needed for a cowherd.
George and Steve Schaefer of Kalona, Iowa, have been using cover crops for grazing their 125-head cowherd for about three years. The brothers incorporate the cover crops of cereal rye, alfalfa hay, and red clover into their farming operation. These plants are grown between regular grain crop production periods. They have also tried annual rye, turnips and radishes but have had more success with the others.
The Schaefers' operation is about 600 acres of row crops--corn, soybeans, wheat, oats and hay--with it being half organic and half conventional production. Most of their conventional acres are no-till, and some of their organic acres are no-till.
Their cattle are rotationally grazed--and grazing the cover crops is in that plan.
"We include cover crops in our grazing program. The plan is to have the cows eat the rye in the spring and the red clover in the fall," said George Schaefer.